Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Reflections on our time with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: "We are marching in the light of God!"

There were many enchanting moments in the three days we shared with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori this past weekend here in Charlottesville as she helped us celebrate the Centennial of St. Paul's Memorial Church.

One amazing moment stood out for me more than any other:

About halfway through our 10 am Sunday worship we always have a children’s procession so that the children can join their parents for Holy Communion.

The kids march up the center aisle as the adults sing, “We are Marching in the Light of God!”

As we sang this Sunday, Bishop Katharine walked down and marched with the kids. And then as they sat around the Holy Table, she leaned down and blessed each child on his or her forehead, one by one.

As it happens, Iris Potter, our Sunday School director, had taught a lesson that morning about how Jesus touched Peter, and then Peter touched others, and they became the leaders of the Church. After Katharine blessed our children, they ran to Iris and asked her if they were now the leaders of the Church.

Later, at lunch, I told Bishop Katharine what the children had asked.

Beaming, she said “Yes! Yes! They are the leaders of the Church!”

Today I am offering a few reflections of our time with Bishop Katharine while these memories are still fresh. I would like to invite you to offer yours in the comment section of this blog (below this posting) while those memories are still fresh with you.

I cannot begin to express my delight that so many of you got to experience Bishop Katharine in so many settings, formal and informal. And I cannot begin to express my gratitude to her for being so generous with her time and so engaged with us.

These three days not only marked a celebration of our centennial, but also marked an historic milestone in the history St. Paul’s as we begin the second 100 years, uplifted by our Presiding Bishop -- and challenged by her -- to fully live out our mission and ministry.

Bishop Katharine implored us to keep our outward focus, to minister to each other and to the world beyond our walls, to fear nothing – to “Be Bold!”

In her time with us, she talked in detail about the Episcopal Church in Haiti, the damage and lost lives. She talked about our responsibility to care for the earth, our island home, and the call to us to grow a healthy transforming congregation that welcomes and nurtures new people.

She talked precious little about Episcopal Church politics.

Over the course of three days, Katharine shared dinner with teenagers, a potluck lunch with the St. Paul’s clergy, and a banquet table with the president-elect of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan. We discovered Katharine has a weakness for macaroni-and-cheese and strong Starbucks coffee.

Despite a snowstorm, more than 200 of you made it to our Centennial banquet. There was something electric about seeing so many of you in your finest clothing waiting to greet her in the banquet hall. I am only sorry that more of you were unable to get through the snow to be with us (and we videoed all of it just for you).

I was struck over-and-over by the hospitality and the love extended by the people of St. Paul’s to this most courageous leader of our church. You opened your arms and your hearts, and I am so grateful for your spirit and your connection with her. I believe she left knowing she made many new friends, and confident that you will remember her in your prayers, just as she will remember you in hers.

Those moments of friendship with us were many:

On Friday, Bishop Katharine’s first appearance in Charlottesville was to a full audience in the historic Dome Room of Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Her appearance was open to the public. Before arriving in the Rotunda, she spent about a half-hour with students in our Canterbury Episcopal Fellowship, who then escorted her to the Rotunda.

At the Rotunda, Professor Margaret Mohrmann, a member of St. Paul's who is on the faculty of both the Medical School and the Religious Studies Department, ably interviewed Bishop Katharine, weaving together questions from the audience written in index cards.

That evening, Bishop Katharine shared macaroni-and-cheese with teenage youth groups from St. Paul’s and several other Episcopal churches in the area. Katharine and the teens sang a few camp songs in the chapel, and then Katharine took their questions.

She was asked to share some of her own life story; she told beginning life as a Roman Catholic and coming to the Episcopal Church as a teenager. She went to Stanford University in California, and later earned a Ph.D in oceanography from Oregon State University. Later, as her career as a scientist wound down, members of her congregation told her she ought to be a priest, an idea she first found improbable. My wife Lori and I got to know her when she was a seminarian in Berkeley at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

The teens were particularly fascinated by Katharine's transition from scientist to Episcopal priest, and then bishop of the Diocese of Nevada. Katharine was asked about how she reconciled her previous career as a scientist with the Genesis stories of creation.

“All of them are true,” she replied, explaining that science explains the mechanics of creation, while Genesis explains the whys of creation.

On Saturday morning, the schedule called for a private luncheon with the Presiding Bishop and the St. Paul’s clergy at the University of Virginia Colonnade Club. But with the snow heavily falling, we went to Plan B – soup and sandwiches at the church. That turned out to be one of the most enchanting moments of the weekend.

Katharine, in her blue jeans, walked over to the parish hall, and before we knew it she was picking up flower trimmings from the floor with our Flower Guild.

Meanwhile, John Reid, Tony Potter, Virginia Ritchie and a large cast worked tirelessly to get us ready for the banquet despite the snowstorm. They made dozens of phone calls, made sure the parking lot at Alumni Hall would be plowed and the caterer able to feed us.

My one job was to transport Katharine from the inn where she was staying to the banquet hall. I almost flubbed that assignment. At the appointed hour, the door to the inn was locked tight, and I could not get anyone inside to answer the doorbell or the phone.

Finally, University President-elect Teresa Sullivan, who it turned out was staying in the same inn, mercifully gave me entry. She and Katharine later shared the same table at the banquet.

There was something about the snowstorm that gave the banquet a forceful energy. It started with the line of snow boots in the entry hall and ended with those who lingered for one more photograph or one more signature in a prayer book. Those who got to the banquet hall were utterly determined to be there no matter what, and no one was in a rush to leave.

At the banquet, we showed a 14-minute documentary about St. Paul’s, produced and written by Bruce Carveth, Paula Kettlewell, Bob Gibson and Sarah McConnell. The film told of the courage of those who built St. Paul’s, and pointed toward the future of our ministry.

Bishop Katharine then spoke eloquently to us about our mission as witnesses of God’s reconciling love in our own time. She tied our work in caring pastorally for each other with our work caring for the community and the world around us; all of it interrelated. More broadly, she gave us a glimpse of the connection we that we share with the whole of The Episcopal Church in 19 nations.

Sunday morning dawned spectacular. The sun was brilliant, the sky blue, and the snow coated the trees and buildings.

We began with a small, contemplative Rite I Eucharist at 8 am with Katharine presiding. Afterwards, she shared a cup of coffee with those who lingered. Later, she remarked to me how prayerful our worship space feels, and how moved she was that we read the names of the soldiers, sailors and Marines who have died in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the previous week.

We pulled out all the stops for the 10 am worship service, and close to 400 people filled the pews. How they found a parking space on the snowy streets is a mystery to me.

Our children’s choir sang an introit before we began, and what most of you did not see was Bishop Katharine with her ear to the door in the narthex, listening and smiling.

The procession of acolytes, candles (and our new banner!), choir and the clergy of St. Paul’s was as spectacular as the morning sunshine.

Bishop Katharine and Deacon Heather Warren, carrying the Gospel, processed last. As we walked down the aisle, I was moved close to tears by the looks on so many faces waiting to see the first woman Presiding Bishop and Primate of our church. Cameras clicked, voices sang, and the celebration rocked the roof.

And then Bishop Katharine stepped to the Altar and prayed with us. We were stilled.

In her sermon, Katharine challenged us to “be bold.” You can read the full text and hear the sermon in a posting below this one [You can also view a brief video made by Simeon Fitch of Bishop Katharine blessing the children by clicking HERE].

In her time with us, Bishop Katharine answered dozens and dozens of questions, and she never seemed to grow weary. After the 10 am worship, she fielded another wave of questions at a parish forum.

She was asked about the proposed “Anglican Covenant” that has been steadily pushed by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as an attempt to quell the conflicts in the Anglican Communion of which we are the American constituent branch (you can read the proposed covenant by clicking HERE).

Katharine termed the proposal “an Enlightenment solution to a Post-modern problem.” She said the covenant is an attempt to put boundaries on innovation and impose a more hierarchical structure on the Anglican Communion with more authority for bishops. She termed that as anti-ethical to the traditions of Anglicanism, and noted that had there been such a covenant 30 years ago there would be no women priests or bishops now.

She was asked whether we will be “out of communion” with the rest of the Anglican Communion if we don’t endorse the proposed covenant.

She replied that we are already “out of communion” because several national provinces do not recognize the ordination of women, or recognize her as a bishop, or recognize anyone -- male or female -- whom she has ordained.

“I’m the problem” for those provinces, she noted.

I found her answers direct; she never equivocated or candy-coated anything; she said what she thinks, and challenged the rest of us to think more deeply and hold our faith more courageously. And she implored us to keep a wide tent, to give room to those who disagree, especially to those who disagree with her.

In the three days we enjoyed with her, I was much struck by how she absorbed the best that is St. Paul’s, and the greatness of this congregation when we are fulfilling our mandate to build God’s kingdom on earth. She synthesized who we are and who we can be in her sermon, and I end this reflection with her words:

The ability to tell those hard truths has something to do with courage, and a deep connectedness to God and all of God’s creation: the courage that St. Paul’s had right after the Second World War to challenge others in this community to contribute to rebuilding churches in Europe, the courage to say no to Harry Byrd’s program of
massive resistance to integrated schools, the courage to host a prayer vigil during the Viet Nam war, and the courage to say keep on saying yes to all comers in this community. Your next hundred years will be built on that kind of courage to speak truth, to pluck up and pull down human structures of injustice, and to build and plant a community of peace.
You will continue to be prophets here as long as you notice the hungry and figure out how to feed people, as long as you reach out to students who might not otherwise get here – how about inviting young people from Haiti or Liberia to apply for Skinner scholarships? The vision from Isaiah that Jesus read, the truth he proclaimed that nearly got him lynched in Nazareth, is the courageous truth we share – a healed and healing world. Prophets may be quaking in their boots, like Martin Luther King the night his house was bombed, but they keep on speaking, and they keep on moving toward God’s perfection.
May your words and deeds be bold!
Photos by Bonny Bronson. There are more photos from the weekend by parishioners on the St. Paul's website; you can view the photos by clicking HERE. Send more and we'll post them.


Anonymous said...

There are a few big things that came out of the Bishop's visit for me.

One was that it (re)started a conversation on what it means to Evangelise which I haven't had yet at St. Pauls, and which I feel was started but never fully addressed in my old church. For me, the conversation started with some of the Bishop's remarks during the banquet, and carried into the car on the way home. I asked her about evangelism in the Q&A because I had been thinking about it over night, and during her sermon.

I was also very moved by her statement that "There is a gift that comes from the way in which a person is created." She said it in response to a question at the dinner about ordination of gays and lesbians, but I felt it applied to everyone. It's easy to forget sometimes that our skills and talents and flaws are all part of the way God made us, and that's okay and that's our gift to the world.

Her steady energy was both calming and energizing, and I am so glad we were blessed by her visit.

cindy said...

As Max said, "It's a very special thing to be blessed by a bishop. Maybe when you're my age Mommy, you can be." Oh, but I do feel blessed to have been able to hear Bishop Kathrine's wisdom over the weekend. I feel more grounded as a Christian and quite energized to serve.

Alice said...

It was a wonderful weekend, so full of joy and celebration. Being in Bishop Katherine's presence was a true gift. Thank you Jim, and to all the others who worked so hard to make this happen.

Rowena said...

There are so many things I could write and applaud about Bishop Katharine's visit, including her sweetness toward my children and her incredible knowledge and understanding of the issues in our Church. But, what really struck me was her fearlessness, and what appeared to be a keen sense of adventure. It seemed to radiate from her, and perhaps into us. To have such a person basically say, "do not be afraid"--whether it be of changing, or trying something new, or being bold--had a profound effect on me. I will never forget it, or her. Thank you for asking Bishop Katharine to visit us here at St. Paul's. She was a revelation.